Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrived in the Bay Area this week as part of his tour of the United States. The crown prince, who began his tour on March 20, is meeting with the nation's top government and business leaders.
He is said to have ensconced himself in the luxury Four Seasons Hotel Silicon Valley in East Palo Alto. On Thursday, April 5, about 40 people protesting Saudi Arabia's proxy war in Yemen stood outside the heavily guarded hotel.
The Crown Prince met on Friday with Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin and Google CEO Sundar Pichai and a number of senior officials, according to the state Saudi Press Agency. They discussed cooperation on cloud computing services in the kingdom and opportunities in the Digital Transformation Initiative in bringing digital technology to the country and establishing a research, development and training center for Saudi youth. They also discussed ways of enhancing cooperation in cybersecurity.
Salman also met with senior Bay Area investors, including a member of Facebook's board of directors and a partner of Palantir Fund; the chair of Clarium Capital board of directors, the chair of Valar Ventures; Peter Thiel, a partner of the Founders Fund; Marc Andreessen, co-founder of of venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz; Sam Altman, a partner at Y Combinator; Vinod Khosla, founder of Kohsla Ventures; and Alex Karp, co-founder and CEO of Palantir Technologies, according to the Saudi Press Agency.
During the meeting, they reviewed the latest investment projects and opportunities, particularly Saudi Arabia's vision to create an attractive environment for emerging companies with innovative investments.
The crown prince and investors also discussed trends in current investment and targeted sectors, and he invited them to visit the kingdom for a briefing on promising investment opportunities.
The meeting was attended by Prince Khalid bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, Saudi ambassador to the U,S., and the official delegation accompanying the Crown Prince.
During the early part of the week, there was much speculation on the Crown Prince's arrival in East Palo Alto. The online tech news website Recode reported that the Four Seasons wasn't accepting reservations from Monday through Saturday, according to the hotel's director of rooms, Ehab Mekhael. Some guests who had previously reserved rooms were moved to other swanky hotels. Hotel management is telling those relocated guests it needs the rooms to accommodate a "large VIP delegation" at the request of the U.S. Department of State, according to an email from the hotel staff obtained by Recode.
"The State Department has approached the hotel for a large VIP delegation next week. Due to the hotel's layout and location they're adamant that we are the best fit for their high security needs which will be restricting the hotel and all outlets from other guests," according to an email the hotel sent to Recode.
Malia O'Connor, Four Seasons Silicon Valley public relations and communications manager, confirmed by email to the Weekly on Monday that the hotel is sold out this week "due to an inbound VIP delegation group. At this moment we have no knowledge of the specific participants of the delegation group and unfortunately have no further information to share."
The Embassy of The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in Washington, D.C. announced the arrival of Prince Mohammed bin Salman on March 19. The visit is part of the kingdom's Vision 2030 initiative to make Saudi Arabia a modern world player through technology, military, business and finance development and investments.
Salman has met with business leaders in Boston, New York, Seattle, and Los Angeles, and will end his tour in Houston, Texas, according to the embassy.
"The Crown Prince's visit aims to cement the existing close relationship between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the United States of America," the embassy said in a statement.
Salman, 31, the son of the current monarch, King Salman, was appointed as crown prince in last June. He has embarked on an aggressive campaign of reforms within the kingdom that include restructuring Saudi Arabia's economy, more freedoms for women such as lifting a ban on female drivers and increasing women in the workplace and more restraints on religious police, according to various news reports.
He has also, however, been accused of increasing the persecution and arrests of human rights advocates, according to the Gulf Center for Human Rights, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. He is also accused of destabilizing some Middle Eastern countries, including Yemen, where Saudi Arabia had been involved in a bombing campaign, according to the Gulf Center for Human Rights.
During his U.S. tour, Salman is discussing investment opportunities within Saudi Arabia and vetting investment prospects within the United States that would reinforce bilateral business ties, according to the embassy. Some agreements have already been discussed or signed, including with a major aerospace company on the West Coast.
In the Bay Area, he was scheduled meet with Apple CEO Tim Cook, top Google executives, Lockheed Martin executives and venture-capital investors, according to the embassy and an itinerary obtained by the online news site Axios.
On Saturday, March 31, the prince inked a joint venture agreement between the Saudi Arabian Military Industries Company and Boeing in Seattle, the Saudi state news channel Al-Ekhbariya reported. The joint venture would expand Boeing's presence in Saudi Arabia. The deal would bring to the kingdom more than 55 percent of maintenance and repairs to the kingdom's fighter jets and helicopters. The agreement included technology transfers to integrate weapons on the aircraft and to set up a supply chain for spare parts within Saudi Arabia, according to the Saudi Press Agency.
Boeing has had a presence in the kingdom since 1945, when then-U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt presented a twin-engine Dakota DC-3 airplane to King Abdul Aziz. The event marked the birth of commercial air travel in the kingdom, according to the Saudi Press Agency.
While in Seattle, Salman met with Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation co-founder Bill Gates at his home on March 30, and with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.
During his visit to southern California on Sunday, April 1, the prince and his entourage visited Virgin Galactic and Mojave Air and Space Port, where he met with Virgin Galactic board Chairman Richard Branson. He was briefed on the company's space technologies and high-speed Hyperloop transportation system. Virgin Galactic unveiled new aircraft fuel compartments, and gave a presentation on spacecraft that will enter commercial services, according to the state Arabian news agency.
The prince and Virgin Galactic also discussed an existing investment partnership, ways of developing the partnership in space services, research collaborations, training Saudi youths, and transforming the Saudi Arabia from a consumer to a technology producer.
The visit builds on last May's historic Riyadh summits, which included a bilateral meeting between the Arab kingdom and the United States. It was President Donald Trump's first overseas meeting.
During the prince's tour, Trump met with Salman at the White House on March 20. During his stay in Washington, the prince met with several key Congressional members from both parties and other influential policy makers, including former president Bill Clinton.
He met with Deputy Secretary of State John Sullivan on March 22 to discuss bilateral and regional issues, including the humanitarian situation in Yemen. They agreed on the urgent need for a political process to end the war, according to the U.S. State Department.
The two leaders also discussed containing Iranian influence in the region and exchanged ideas on holding a productive U.S.-Gulf Cooperation Council Summit in the near future. The 2017 summit was marked by rifts.
In New York, the prince met with United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres and participated in the Saudi-U.S. CEO Forum. He met with officials of the Financial Times Stock Exchange, which announced the Saudi Arabia stock market's classification as a "secondary emerging" market within the exchange's Global Equity Index Series starting in March 2019. The move is expected to attract billions of dollars of foreign investment to the kingdom, according to Reuters.
The Crown Prince's last stop was scheduled for Houston this Saturday, April 7. He will visit Aramco Services Company's Research Center and Motiva's Port Arthur facility before heading home, according to the embassy.